Pygmalion is the most successful play of Shaw both on stage and screen. It was first produced at the Halfburg Theatre in Vienna on 16th Oct. 1913. It had achieved wide popularity in all English speaking world. The film based on the play was produced in 1938. It had met a grand success. A musical version of the play was ‘My Fair Lady’. A film version based on ‘My Fair Lad’ was produced in 1963. It was a great success. The play has been translated in Marathi language by Shri. P. L. Deshpande. Its name is ‘Tee Phulrani’. The play achieved a grand success on a Marathi stage. Thus the play has got a universal appeal.
1. The main source of the play is a myth of Pygmalion in ancient Greece. According to the earliest version of the story, Pygmalion was a king of Cyprus. He fell in love with a statue of a girl named Galatea. Then he prayed Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. She breathed life into the statue. Then he married Galatea.
2. The play, Pygmalion is based on the old fairy tale of Cinderella.
3. The play Pygmalion had carried the influence of the story of Adam and Eve from the medieval morality plays.
The myth of Pygmalion is symbolic. It is related to man’s desire to do certain things which are superior to the things available in the world.
The setting of the play :
The story of Pygmalion takes place in London. The first act opens Covert Garden, at the corner of Tottenham Court Road. Then it moves to London slum locality. The second act takes place at the residence of Prof. Higgins on Wimple Street. The third act takes place in Chelsea Embankment; a fashionable locality in London. Then it moves to a foreign embassy in London. The action further takes place in the localities of London Cavendish Square, Hanover Square and Wimbledon Common.
The characters in the play :
1. Henry Higgins – Pygmalion, a Prof. of Phonetics.
2. Colonel Pickering – A student of Phonetics, studied the dialects of Sanskrit.
3. Eliza Doolittle – The flower girl, the student of Prof. Higgins.
4. Alfred Doolittle – the father of Eliza.
5. Mrs Higgins – the mother of Prof. Higgins
6. Freddy Hill – the lover of Eliza
7. Mrs Pearce – the housekeeper of Higgins.
8. Mrs Eynsford Hill – the mother of Freddy and Clara.
9. Clara Hill – Sister of Freddy.
Structure of The Play
The play follows a typical Shavion formula – i.e. Exposition – Complication – Discussion.
The first act is a prologue. It introduces the main theme and characters in the play. It is an exposition. The first act is a prologue. It introduces the main theme and characters in the play. It is an exposition. The complication and its climax come in the II , III and IV act. They consist of Eliza’s education, the tests of her learning at Mrs Higgins and at the Ambassador’s party. The IV and V acts are concerned with the consequences of Eliza’s education.
Structurally, we can divide the play into four parts.
2. Eliza’s education
3. Tests of Eliza’s learning
4. Consequences of Eliza’s learning.
The play progresses from ignorance to knowledge.
The story in Outline / Summary
Pygmalion is the story of Prof. Higgins and a flower girl Eliza Doolittle.
It was a rainy night. A number of passengers were standing in the portico of St. Paul’s church for shelter. Eliza was one of them. She was a flower girl. Mrs Hill, Clara Hill, Freddy Hill were standing there. Freddy was gone to search for a cab. While returning he collided against Eliza. Flowers in her hand were fallen in the mud. She shouted loudly in her cockney dialects. Mrs Hill gave her six pence. Eliza requested other bystanders to purchase her flowers. Prof. Higgins was noting down her dialects. Also, he was noting down the features of different- dialects spoken by the people standing there. The people suspected him. He said that he was a professor of Phonetics. He could identify the locality of the people from their way of speaking. There he met a military gentleman Colonel Pickering. He was a student of Cambridge University. Then he had gone to India. He studied Sanskrit there, He specialized himself in Sanskrit dialects. He came to London only to meet Prof. Higgins. Thus Prof. Higgins and Pickering became friends. Prof. Higgins invited him to stay at his house in Wimpole Street. While talking Prof. Higgins said that he could train the flower girl.
He could change her from a flower girl to a duchess at an Ambassador party.
The next day, Prof. Higgins and Colonel Pickering were sitting together at Higgin’s house. Prof. Higgins was demonstrating him his methods of teaching Phonetics. Soon, Eliza, the flower girl, entered there. She told Prof. Higgins that she wanted to take a job in a fashionable flower shop. Prof. Higgin surprised but agreed her offer. Further, he boasted he would train her. He would transform her into a fashionable lady within six months. Colonel Pickering bet with Higgins He said if he could do so, he would pay all the expenses of her education.
Eliza stayed at Prof. Higgins’s house for her education. Prof. Higgins instructed his housekeeper, Mrs Pearce to wash and clean the girl. Then she was given a new dress to wear. During the time, Alfred Doolittle arrived there. He was Eliza’s father. He was a dustman. He was an immoral man. He sold his daughter to Higgins for five pounds. Eliza came there. She was completely changed. Even her father could not recognize her.
Eliza’s education at Prof. Higgins started. He taught her lesson in phonetics with experiment. His lessons were difficult to learn for the girl because she was a poor girl. She was living in a slum area. She knew nothing about correct English and its correct pronunciation. Prof. Higgins used to shout at her. He used to lose his temper. Eliza was thinking to run away from him. But Pickering encouraged her. He taught her the manner of upper-class society. To your surprise, she proved herself a good student. Within three months she progressed well.
Prof. Higgins took Eliza to his mother’s place. There was Mrs Higgins ‘at home day’. Her friends were supposed to come there. Mrs Hill, her daughter, Clara and Mrs Hill’s son Freddy were present there. It was a test of Eliza. She was well dressed. She was looking quite smart. She was easy and confident in her behaviour. Freddy fell in love with Eliza. According to Mrs Higgins Eliza needed to change more to be perfect. However, she was a triumph of his art.
After six months Eliza’s education was over, she was taken to an Ambassador’s party for a final test. Eliza created a sensation by her beauty and manners. Everyone gathered there, thought her like a princess. Prof. Higgins won the test the bet. Colonel Pickering and Prof. Higgins were happy about their grand success. Eliza was emotionally attached to Prof. Higgins. But he treated her just like a machine. He was a bully for her. After Eliza’s success, he congratulated himself for his successful experiment. He ignored Eliza. She was shocked. She called him a selfish brute. She gave his jewellery to him and went out of his house.
Freddy was lingering out. Eliza joined Freddy. They wandered together the whole night. The next morning Eliza went to Mrs Higgins. Prof. Higgins and Pickering worried. They rang up the police. Then they reached to Mrs Higgins. Eliza’s father also came there. There we learnt Eliza was his illegitimate daughter. And he was supposed to marry her stepmother.
There was a hot discussion between Eliza and Higgins. She told that she was going to marry Freddy. Though he was an uneducated man, he could be a good father to their children. She would live with him happily.
Act-wise summary of the play
Now we will study the story of the play in detail. We will try to analyse each act. The play falls into five acts. The first act functions as a prologue to the play. It reveals the main theme of the play: i.e. education. The succeeding acts develop the action. They are related to Eliza’s education, her two tests and her rebellion.
It was a rainy night in London. The time was 11.15 p.m. A number of passengers were taking shelter at the Portico of St. Paul’s Church in London. Among them were Mrs Hill, Clara Hill, they were waiting for Freddy, the son of Mrs Hill. He was gone to bring a cab. As he came empty, he was irritated by his mother and sister. He rushed again. On his way, he collided against a flower-girl Eliza. Her flowers were scattered in the mud. She shouted at Freddy in her typical cockney dialect. Her dress was very poor. Mrs Hill gave her sixpence Prof. Higgins was observing the scene. He was noting down the varieties of dialect used by the people standing there. There came a military gentleman to take shelter. He was Colonel Pickering, Eliza requested him to purchase flowers. She was requesting other bystanders to buy her flowers. Prof. Higgins noted down every word of Eliza. He was mistaken as a spy. Eliza got feared. She shouted that she had done nothing wrong. She had the right to sell flowers. Then Prof. Higgins told that he was mistaken by them. He was a professor in phonetics. He showed his notebook to them. He had written the phonetic script of Eliza’s speech. He added he could identify the native of the person from the person’s (his) dialect. He told Eliza that she was from Lisson Grove. Prof. Higgins and Pickering got acquainted with each other. They became good friends. Prof. Higgins invited him to stay at his house. He told about his profession. Moreover, he boasted if the flower-girl could learn lessons from him he could change her into the duchess at an Ambassador’s party. Eliza was listening to their talk seriously. She got money from Pickering and Prof. Higgins. The rain stopped. People departed Freddy came with a cab for his mother and sister until they went by bus. Therefore, Eliza hired the cab and went to her room.
She was quite happy and relaxed. She had got more money on that day. She would dream a lot about her life.
Shaw exposes the play in this act. The theme of the play is indicated in the act. All the major characters were introduced here. Prof. Higgins was a Pygmalion. He was a creator of Eliza. He was a professor of phonetics. He was boastful about his profession. He said he could change the poor flower-girl into a fine lady of the upper class. Accidental meeting of Prof. Higgins and Colonel Pickering made them good friends. Freddy felt delicate feelings for Eliza. As she had got money on that day, she started planning for her future.
The second act took place in Prof. Higgin’s house in Wimpole Street. There was a laboratory in his house. He used to give lessons in phonetics to his students. He used to follow his own methods of training others. It was well equipped with necessary instruments of recording and reproducing sounds. He loved his profession very much. He was boastful about his work. He was showing his laboratory to his new friend Colonel Pickering.
Mrs Pearce, the housekeeper, informed the arrival of a girl to Higgins. She was told to send the girl in. As he saw the girl, he stunned. He shouted at her. Do you know, why? She was Eliza, a flower girl. She had the very poor pronunciation of her language. She told her purpose of coming over there. She wanted to take lessons in phonetics from him. She desired to take a good job at some florist. She was ready to pay his fees. He accepted her offer. Even Colonel Pickering took a bet that if Prof. Higgins could change the flower girl into a sophisticated lady within six months he would pay all the expenses of her education.
Eliza’s education started. She was cleaned and washed by Mrs Pearce. She was given a new dress to wear. She was asked to stay in his house only. Mrs Pearce was told to take care of her. She taught her the ways of good manners.
Meanwhile, there came Alfred Doolittle, the father of Eliza to Higgins house. He was a poor dustman. He tried to threat Higgins for taking Eliza in his house. Later he confessed that he would not take Eliza back. He just wanted five pounds from Higgins.
Actual lessons started. Eliza was a slum-girl. She was illiterate. Therefore, it was difficult for her to take a lesson from Prof. Higgins. He was very strict. He was short-tempered. Sometimes she felt to run away to her own slum. But Colonel Pickering encouraged her. He taught her manners. She got parental love from him. She made good progress within three months. She was able to differentiate between human sounds. She could play on piano. Even she could identify and pronounce African dialect. Thus she was ready to face a test before Mrs Higgins, the mother of Prof. Higgins.
The act reveals various characters in the play. There is the conflict of ideas, opinions and problems raised by different characters. First, Mrs Pearce questioned her master when Eliza would turn into a sophisticated lady. How she could adjust herself with her changed circumstances. Secondly, Eliza’s father raised his problem. He was ‘an undeserving poor’ and ‘middle-class moralist’ was thrust on him. He did not want to change his rank because he could not conduct properly in the changed condition. So he felt happy with five pence. Thirdly, the main conflict comes between Prof. Higgins and Pickering. Higgins boasted to change a flower girl in a duchess in a few months. Pickering challenged him that if he could do so he would make all the expenses of Eliza’s education. Fourthly, Alfred Doolittle came to blackmail Prof Higgins but was satisfied with just five pence and went away. Fifthly, we see a cultural conflict in Eliza. Though she was changed in a sophisticated lady she could not give up her habits, even she could not adopt the free and easy ways of upper-class society. Out of all these conflicts, the story moves forward. At the and of the second act, Eliza was made ready to face her test before Mrs Higgins.
The third act took place in the drawing-room of Mrs Higgin’s house in Chelsea Embankment. It was afternoon time four and five. Mrs Higgins was an old lady of sixty years. It was her ‘at home’ day. On that day she would remain at her house and would receive her friends and visitors. Prof. Higgins, Colonel Pickering, Mrs. and Miss Hill, Mr Eynsford Hill (Freddy) arrived at the party. Lastly, Miss Doolittle arrived and created a sensation. She was looking beautiful and self-confident. Everybody was impressed by her conduct and small talk. The party was over. Guests had departed. Prof. Higgins, Colonel Pickering discussed Eliza with Mrs Higgins. Mrs Higgins agreed that he had taken efforts towards her pronunciation. She required more efforts to improve her manner. Further, she warned him that if a poor woman had lifted to a fine lady what should be done with her? How she could live unless she had a fine lady’s income. Prof. Higgins attempts were one-sided. He was thinking only of his experiments and their success. He would take more efforts to polish her manners. By the end of her course, Eliza was taken to the ambassador’s Garden Party. There also she created a sensation. She was appreciated as a princess. Thus a flower girl had successfully transferred into a princess.
This act throws light on various factors. First, why Mrs. Higgins kept her son Prof. Higgins out of her house. Second, Freddy’s attraction towards Eliza was suggestive about their possible marriage in future. Third, Eliza presented herself well. She impressed everyone present at the Higgins. However, she required more training regarding her manners. It was a half success of Prof. Higgins. Fourth, by the end of Eliza’s training, she was brought by the Ambassador’s Gardan Party. There she proved herself the best. Thus her transformation completed Prof. Higgins won the bet.
The fourth act took place at the residence of Prof. Higgins. The time was of midnight. Prof. Higgins, Colonel Pickering and Eliza were just returned from the Ambassador’s Party. Prof. Higgins was very much happy as he won the bet. Colonel Pickering congratulated him. Eliza was laid aside. She was quite angry because Prof. Higgins had used her just like a speaking machine. She had expected that Higgins would propose her. But he had not thought her in that way. There was a serious quarrel between them. She threw her slippers on his face. She had a problem where she could go thereafter? Previously she sold flowers but now turned a lady and how she could sell flowers or anything. Thus she had a question before her how to live, what to do by being a lady. She was furious. She could not understand what to do. She gave everything back to Higgins that was given to her. She decided to leave him.
Then she went out for a night walk. She met Freddy. They wandered the whole night. Eliza decided to meet Mrs Higgins the next day.
The action reached the climax in the third and the fourth act. Education of Eliza was completed successfully. The problem remained what Eliza would to do with her changed rank. Prof. Higgins was not at all interested in her. His work was over. Though Eliza was Higgins creation he could not marry her. So Freddy was there. He loved Eliza like anything. The act throws light on the character of Higgins. He was selfish, boastful. He used Eliza to prove his knowledge. When it was proved he left her for nothing.
Eliza returned to Higgins house in the morning. She collected her things and went to Mrs Higgins. Now Eliza appeared to be conscious about her future. She expected guidance from Mrs Higgins. Here Prof. Higgins and Colonel Pickering were worried about Eliza. They asked Mrs Higgins about Eliza. Pickering rang up the police. Mrs Higgins called them nonsense.
Alfred Doolittle arrived at Mrs Higgins. He revealed his own situation. He was honoured as ‘the most original moralist at present in England’ but he had nothing to do with it. He was a dustman. He wanted to keep his job ahead. He was going to marry then first time in his life Eliza was his illegitimate child.
Alfred invited all of them to his marriage. Mrs Higgins, Pickering and Eliza went to marriage leaving Higgins back alone. The play ends there and then Pickering told Eliza to forgive Higgins and stay with him. Eliza had fatherly affection towards him. She had to agree. Also, she cared for Higgins but he could not understand her. He was making certain absurd proposals before her. So she became furious. She told him at once that Freddy loved her. She wanted to marry him in spite of all his limitations.
Then she would run a flower shop of her own. She could settle herself well in her life.
The act is concerned with the consequences of Eliza’s education. She became a self-confident and strong-willed lady. Her education was over. Consequences of education on her became visible. She tried to search for her identity and position in the higher social environment. Prof. Higgins, the most practical man, was left alone. Actually, the play ends here but the story of Eliza has given a finishing touch in the epilogue.
The Characters :
There are five main characters in the play. They are :
i) Prof. Henry Higgins ii) Eliza Doolittle iii) Colonel Pickering iv) Alfred Doolittle v) Freddy Hill
There are four minor characters. They support the main action of the play. They are :
i) Mrs Higgins ii) Clara Hill iii) Mrs Hill iv) Mrs Pearce.
Now we will see the details of these characters :
Prof Henry Higgins:
We have gone through the story. Then guess who is Pygmalion in the story? Yes, Henry Higgins is Pygmalion of Shaw. He does not make a statue. He does not worship physical beauty like Pygmalion in Greek Mythology. He is a professor of phonetics. He desires to make his students perfect in their speaking. He knows peculiarities of different dialects spoken in the localities of London. He could identify the specific locality of the person from the dialect he speaks.
A Typical professor :
He is a typical professor. He is devoted to his subject. His only interest is to teach the students to speak English perfectly. He is enthusiastic. He is energetic even at the age of 40. He could not tolerate the rough use of dialect. According to him, one must speak English correctly. He has undertaken the job to refine Eliza. He dreams to transform a flower girl into a duchess. He thinks that it is a challenge to his knowledge.
He is a short-tempered man. Little things upset him, for example, repeated weeping of Eliza annoys him. He gets angry with Eliza on a small account. He threats her of punishment. He doesn’t control his temper.
A careless person :
He is a very careless person. He is rude and untidy. He lacks culture and good manners. His mother had kept him away because of his ill manners. He is unfit to sophisticated society. He uses indecent words in his speech. He lacks table manners. He is rude and unrefined in his manners. Even he does not bother about mannerisms in genteel society.
Higgins – Eliza Relations :
Higgin is the professor of phonetics. Eliza is his student. He is cynic towards Eliza. He is indifferent towards her beauty and charm. He loves his subject like anything. Here his role is that of creator. He transforms a poor flower girl to a beautiful lady. He is using Eliza in his experiment. He wants intellectual satisfaction from her. That’s why after the Ambassador’s party, Higgins overjoyed on Eliza’s success. He boasts on his success. He doesn’t think about Eliza’s feeling. Eliza expects emotional satisfaction from him. His lessons changed Eliza into a strong-willed woman. Higgins appears a weak-willed person. The two characters are two poles apart.
Higgins loves his profession much. But he could not love any young woman. He believed women upset everything. Therefore, he remained a bachelor at the age of 40. Even he will not marry thereafter.
2. Colonel Pickering
He is an elderly gentleman of the amiable military type. He is an elderly person. He appears to be a sincere nobleman. He was from Cambridge. He is a student of phonetics. He has visited India. He has studied and specialized in the dialects of Sanskrit. He has written a book on spoken Sanskrit. He has come to London to meet Prof. Higgins, a professor of Phonetics. Coincidently, he met Prof. Higgins at the portico of St. Paul’s Church. He was much impressed by Higgins knowledge of understanding dialects. Soon they became good friends. He stayed with Prof. Higgins at Higgins House.
Prof. Higgins and Colonel Pickering. :
Prof. Higgins was proud of his knowledge of Phonetics. He was boastful about his teaching and experiments in teaching phonetics. He claimed that he could train an illiterate flower girl. He would transform her into a duchess within six months by teaching her speaking English correct. Colonel Pickering challenged him about his boast. He was sober and generous. He took a special interest in Eliza’s education. He supported her and encouraged her for good learning. He treated her with due respect. Whereas Prof. Higgins treated her as a machine. Colonel Pickering played the role of guardian in Eliza’s education as well as in her life. He supported financial help to Eliza and Freddy to set up a flower shop and made them lead a respectable life.
3. Eliza Doolittle :
Eliza Doolittle is a young girl of 18. She is the daughter of a dustman. She sells flowers to earn her living. Though she is beautiful, she is untidy, rude and dirty in her appearance. She speaks cockney dialects. She is a shabby and unromantic girl. Yet she became the heroine the play.
We met her in the 1st act. She was selling flowers at the portico of the church. On that day she earned enough money. Money made her dream about future. Therefore she decided to learn speaking correct English. She went to Prof. Higgins. She requested him to give her lessons in spoken English. She proved herself an obedient student. She took a keen interest in her learning. She proved herself an efficient girl. That is why she completed her education with grand success. She was made a beautiful lady.
Eliza appeared pathetic. Her transformation into a duchess created a lot of problems before her. She was helplessly asking questions –What I am fit for? Where am I to go? What am I to do? etc. Prof. Higgins didn’t care about her. As her education had completed she was left for her own.
Eliza became a strong-willed woman. After her education, she realized life. She was expecting love from Prof. Higgins. But soon she preferred Freddy as her husband. Education made her live independently. It helped her to search for her identity. It transformed her into a self-confident and strong-willed woman. She could dare to marry an uneducated Freddy. She desired to overcome any difficulty in her way. She dreamed to lead a peaceful family life.
Eliza is the only character in the play, who changes, grows and develops her own identity.
4. Alfred Doolittle :
Alfred Doolittle is Eliza’s father. He is a poor dustman. His main business is to extort money from others and put it into his pockets. He himself is a lazy person. His name itself suggests his nature. He is immoral. He sells his daughter to Prof. Higgins for five pounds.
Alfred Doolittle is a comic character. He creates fun and humour in the play. He is Shaw’s spokesman. He exposes Shaw’s own philosophy of life, marriage, society. He is a social rebel. He feels everyone should get what he wants.
He is unconventional. He is a liar. He is a cheat. He is frank about his weakness.
He is a man of spirit. He is enthusiastic. His enthusiasm remains throughout the play.
5. Freddy :
Freddy is the popular name of Fredrick Eynsford Hill. He belonged to a noble family. He is the young man of 20. He is introduced like another character in the first act. He is a poor chap. His mother calls him ’helpless’. Similarly, he lacks commonsense. He is uneducated. He has completed his elementary primary education at a cheap public school. He is not trained for any profession. Therefore he remains poor.
Freddy loves Eliza. A cab brought them together in the first act. He was impressed by the beauty of the flower girl. Then he met Eliza at the residence of Mrs Higgins. There was a small party at Higgins. Also, it was a trial test of Eliza before Higgins. There he was attracted towards her. He loved her small talk and her cherished personality. He wrote letters to her very regularly. He came to Wimpole Street to see Eliza every night. When Eliza came out of the house after her quarrel with Higgins, Freddy met her and smoothes her. He expresses his love for her. Finally, he marries Eliza.
6. Mrs Higgins :
Mrs Higgins is the mother of Higgins. She is an old lady of 60 years. She lives alone in her own flat at Chelsea Embankment. She has maintained her house decently. She lives separate from her son, who is careless, untidy, Mrs Higgins could not tolerate his habits.
Mrs Higgins is a loving mother. She has taken a good effort to make her son a scholar in phonetics. She supports him to become successful in his subject with her guidance and encouragement. Yet her love for her son is not blind. She knows everything about him.
Mrs Higgins is kind-hearted and sympathetic to Eliza. She provides her with every help. She supports her. Thus Mrs Higgins is a loving woman.
7. Miss Clara Hill :
Clara is Freddy’s sister. She brings Freddy and Eliza together. She makes their marriage possible. Therefore though she is a minor character, she plays an important role in the life of Eliza and Freddy.
8. Mrs Hill:
Mrs Hill was the mother of Freddy and Clara. She is a middle-aged lady. She is tolerant, calm and generous
9. Mrs Pearce:
Mrs Pearce is the housekeeper of Prof. Higgins. She is sincere and devoted to her work. She plays an important role in the transformation of Eliza into a fine lady.
Now we will study the major themes in the play. Education, a quest for identity, search for belongings, loss of social identity, human relationship, love, etc., are the themes of the play.
Education of Eliza is the central theme of the play. Eliza is an illiterate flower girl. She belongs to a lower class of society. She is crude and ill-mannered. She speaks her cockney dialect. Prof. Higgins observes her. He notes down her cockney dialect. If she is given education she could be a fine lady Eliza goes to him the next day. She requested him to give lessons in spoken English. Prof. Higgins accepted the task. He decided to train the girl. He boasted that he could transform the flower girl into a duchess within six months. The exercises were taken. Eliza was changed. She successfully passed the two tests. One at Mrs Higgins ‘at – home day’ and the other at the Ambassador’s Party. She passed her second test. Everybody appreciated her like a princess.
Quest for identity
Due to education, Eliza realized her own identity. She was progressed from ignorance to knowledge. She was completely changed. She was lifted from the lower-class environment to the upper class. So she had a problem what to do with her new identity. She could not return back. So she desires to live up to new social identity. She became confident. Therefore she could confront the problem of identity on her own.
Alfred Doolittle faced the same problem of social identity. He was lifted from his slum life to the middle class by Higgins accidentally. Higgins refers to him as ‘the most original moralist at present in England’. Accidentally Alfred was lifted from undeserving dustman to a gentleman. It was true that it was not his spiritual change. Whether he became rich or remained poor it could not make any difference to him.
The success of the play depends on the nature of human relationship :
Prof. Higgins and Eliza :
Prof. Higgins is a man of genius. Eliza is a poor flower girl. Higgins used Eliza to his purpose. He lifted her from flower girl to a duchess. It does mean he loves her. On the contrary, his first love was phonetics. He was devoted to the experiment in the subject. He trained Eliza to show his knowledge. A man of genius could not think about emotional love/woman’s love.
Eliza was living with Prof. Higgins for six months. She had a certain feeling towards Higgins. Therefore after finishing her education successfully, she expected the same from Prof. Higgins. But he could not understand her.
The life-force :
Both man and woman have different purpose according to their biological instincts. Woman’s purpose is to pursue the man to marry him to make him the father of their children. Man’s purpose is to raise life to a higher level. Shaw has presented this life-force as the central motif. The class between Prof. Higgins and Eliza was the result of the life force.
Eliza and Freddy:
Eliza and Freddy belonged to the same generation. Freddy was attracted towards Eliza in their first meeting at the portico of St. Paul’s Church. Both of them were uneducated. Eliza was given education and lifted to a high standard. During her education, she was taken to Mrs Higgins at a home day party. It was her first test. She presented well. Freddy, his mother and sister Clara were present there. That was the second meeting of Eliza and Freddy. Eliza was looking beautiful. She was changed a lot. Freddy fell in love with her. He desired to marry her. Eliza agreed his proposal when she was ignored by Prof. Higgins after her grand success in the final test. She thought that Freddy could be the good father for her children.
Now we will appreciate the play by discussing the plot construction in the play, the title and the subtitle of the play. Then we will see problems in Pygmalion.
18.6.1 Plot construction:
The plot of Pygmalion is logically constructed. There are three main actions in the play.
1. Eliza’s education
2. A consequence of her education.
3. Discussion on the consequences of Eliza education and Alfred Doolittle’s story as a sequel.
The task of Eliza’s education was undertaken by Prof. Higgins. He made different phonetic experiment on Eliza. He transformed her from a flower girl to a princess. His task was over. Eliza had to face new problems as the consequence of her education. As Eliza was lifted high from her lower class. She could not return to her previous position. Also being an upper-class lady she could not sell flowers or anything. She had lost her previous identity. She had to search for her new social identity. Then there was a lot of discussion and quarrel on the problem. Education made her self confident and strong-willed. Eliza became independent. So she solved her problem in her own way. She had so many options for earning. The self-realization of Eliza signifies the success of education.
Alfred Doolittle’s story is discussed in the play. It is a sequel to the main plot. These actions are skillfully woven together in the play.
The title ‘Pygmalion’ is attractive. It is taken from Greek Mythology. Pygmalion was a sculptor. He made a statue of a beautiful girl, Galatea. He fell in love with the statue. Aphrodite, the goddess of youth and beauty, poured life into the statue. Pygmalion married Galatea.
In the play, Higgins is Pygmalion. Eliza Doolittle is Galatea of the legend. Eliza is an uneducated flower girl. Higgins experimented over the girl in his phonetic laboratory. She was trained there. Then she became a refined lady. The experiment resulted in success. Eliza was taken as a princess. Thus Prof. Higgins is the creator of Eliza but he did not marry Eliza, his creation.
The subtitle :
The subtitle of the play is A Romance. It is ironical because Higgins, the hero, is anti-romantic. He is an old bachelor. Eliza, the heroine, is his creation. But he has used her only for his scientific purpose. The transformation of Eliza into a beautiful lady is quite romantic. But the hero Higgins does not marry her. When his experiment is over, his interest is Eliza is over. Shaw treated the play in his own style. He was an anti-romantic. He was an iconoclast. He made it clear in Pygmalion.
The love story of Eliza-Freddy has the element of romance. Eliza and Freddy fell in love with each other. Then they got married.
Pygmalion is mainly a problem play, Shaw has given a touch of romance only in the creation of Eliza as a new creature and the love story of Eliza and Freddy
18.6.3 Problem in Pygmalion:
Pygmalion is a problem play. A number of problems are presented and discussed in it. Here we will look into some of the problems in the play.
1. The problem of education: Eliza successfully completes her education. But it creates problems for her. Education has given her a new status. So she cannot go back to her former status. She has a dilemma. She has lost her identity and she is alienated in the new society.
The problem of education is not limited to Eliza but it has become a world problem. Education creates a desire for a new life. So it led towards personal and social unrest.
2. Alfred Doolittle was called undeserving poor. The poor are divided into deserving and undeserving poor. What criteria should be used for such division?
3. Alfred Doolittle grows suddenly rich. He is lifted to middle-class status. He has lost his former identity.
4. The concept of middle-class morality is exposed in the play. Whether it is hypocrisy or reality?
Wit and Humour :
Pygmalion is Shaw’s most amusing and popular play. It is full of wit, humour and paradox. He has transformed the science of speech into an entertaining drama. Shaw makes fun of conventional morality of speech. He has used wit and paradox for the purpose. He makes fun of characters, their habits and their relationship with one another. Alfred Doolittle is the most popular one. Shaw’s dialogues are always amusing. There is humour, suspense in the play.
Paradox means self-contradictory statements. They are related to truth. In Pygmalion both the character and situation are paradoxical. First, the myth of Pygmalion is treated paradoxically. Pygmalion, Prof. Higgins, doesn’t marry Eliza –Galatea. Secondly, the treatment of the Cinderella story is paradoxical. Eliza doesn’t marry a prince but she marries Freddy. She works with him and supports him. Thirdly, Higgins is paradoxical. He is an eminent scientist. He teaches Eliza the refined way of speaking English. He uplifts her from the lower class. But he himself is untidy, ill-mannered. He is rude and insulting. Similarly, the play is rich in paradoxical statements. It is built on paradox.